At one point, the future of the catcher position for the Cubs looked bright. But given former top prospect Miguel Amaya has not played 100 games in a single season since 2018 and Willson Contreras now calls St. Louis home, it's quickly become a position of need for the team.
Veteran Yan Gomes is under contract through 2023 with a $6 million team option for 2024 but given he turns 36 in July, his future past next year is very much up for debate. In his first year in Chicago, Gomes put up a 75 OPS+, but was a great game-caller behind the dish, one who got improved results over Contreras with multiple members of the pitching staff.
Gomes' defense-first approach fits perfectly with the organization's new direction with the position, prioritizing glove work and receiving skills over the bat. But given Gomes' age and the questions surrounding Amaya's ability to stay on the field and take meaningful steps forward in his already delayed development, the Cubs have been repeatedly mentioned as a potential trade partner with the Blue Jays, who are swimming in depth behind the plate.
MLB Trade Rumors recently broke down the Jays' market for their trio of catchers that includes All-Star and Silver Slugger recipient Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen and top prospect Gabriel Moreno. The Cubs were listed among the 'most logical' partners in a deal - and here's what they had to say:
Any of the three Jays catchers would be an upgrade to the Cubs’ roster, and either Kirk or Moreno would supplant Amaya as the organization’s catcher of the future. The Cubs don’t have the controllable, big-league-ready bat the Jays might prefer, but they could send a year of switch-hitting outfielder and a prospect package behind him if they were to become serious about landing a Toronto catcher.
Which brings us to the question: what will the Cubs do with their switch-hitting All-Star outfielder? Both Happ and Nico Hoerner represent logical extension candidates, especially now that they got their superstar shortstop in Dansby Swanson. But if, as was the case with countless other guys in recent years, talks go nowhere - Happ could be a hot trade chip heading into his final year of team control.
Cubs: What's more valuable? A new catcher or Ian Happ long-term?
So, given the Cubs' lack of answers behind the plate long-term - what's more valuable to the team moving forward? A long-term deal with Happ or finding a solution to that catching conundrum in Kirk, Jansen or Moreno?
Fangraphs' ZiPS projections for next year peg Happ for 2.3 fWAR, down from 3.5 fWAR in 2022. ZiPS is very high on Kirk (3.7 fWAR), but admittedly, it's hard to project when there are three guys battling for reps at one position, as is the case in Toronto. Either Kirk serves primarily as a DH, catching maybe every three days, while Moreno assumes the daily duties or they trade from their surplus - which is where the Cubs come in.
Moreno will obviously garner the largest return of the three. Despite Kirk's breakout 2022 performance, MLB Pipeline pegged him as the #7 overall prospect in the league heading into last year and, at some point, he's either going to be the guy or get dealt somewhere where he can get that opportunity.
Happ alone isn't going to bring back one of these guys - if the Jays do indeed pull the trigger on a trade. Given he's got just one year of control left, you're going to have to attach prospects to this deal to get it done. Which prospects the Jays want included will obviously be a huge piece of this puzzle, as well, and will dramatically impact how such a deal would be perceived by Cubs faithful.
If I had to come down on one side or another, I'd say adding Moreno, specifically (I have trouble believing Kirk would be a Cubs target given his defensive limitations and Jansen doesn't move the needle enough for me personally), would give far more upside moving forward than keeping Happ. Finding a long-term, productive answer behind the plate is something teams often struggle to do - and, as impressive as Happ was in 2022 - it's far simpler to replace outfield production in today's game.